Dispute breaks out at mining company over pay

On 12 February 2008, after unsuccessful negotiations over a new collective agreement at the CNH hard-coal mining company in Romania, the LSMVJ miners’ trade union formally launched a collective dispute procedure, which will end in a strike if no deal is reached. Since then, two rounds of mediation have taken place, without success. The dispute centres on union demands for a 25% pay increase.

Background

The National Hard Coal Company Petroşani (Compania Naţională a Huilei Petroşani, CNH) is the main company in the Romanian hard-coal extraction sector. It has a long history of strong trade union organisation and of strikes (RO0402102F, RO0405102F, RO0502101N). CNH currently mines some 2.5 million tonnes of high-grade coal a year, and has approximately 12,000 workers in seven mining units (compared with 50,000 miners in 1997), which is due to fall to around 8,000 by 2012.

The company- specific trade union organising at CNH is the League of Miners’ Trade Unions Valea Jiului (Liga Sindicatelor Miniere Valea Jiului, LSMVJ), which claims over 8,000 members.

The company collective agreement expires on 8 March 2008, and collective bargaining over a new agreement started on 6 February.

Main demands

In keeping with the legal provisions, the LSMVJ union filed with the local Hunedoara county Department for Labour, Social Solidarity and Family (Direcţia de Muncă, Solidaritate Socială şi Familie Hunedoara, DMSSF Hunedoara) a list of five claims for the new collective agreement at CNH. At the core of their claims is a rise in pay (and extra benefits) of 25%, justified by the following arguments:

  • the 2007 average inflation rate;
  • the economic growth forecast for 2008;
  • the rise by over 20% of the price of hard coal on the world market, and
  • the wage standards in the mining sectors of other European Union (EU) Member States.

LSMVJ demands not only that the rights gained under the previous collective agreement be continued, but also that the provisions of the new company agreement be brought up to the level of the overall mining sector collective agreement, which has already been concluded.

In addition to claims related to working conditions and wages, LSMVJ also demands that the historic debts of CNH (incurred before the date of Romania’s accession to the EU in 2007) be written off, and that the company should in future receive subsidies, in line with EU practice in this sector.

The union also proposes the establishment in the Jiu valley (in Hunedoara county, southwestern Romania) of a power generation system that should include the CNH and the Paroşeni Steam Power Plant (Termocentrala Paroşeni).

Management’s reaction and conflict notified

The CNH management’s response, dated 7 February 2008, was that all it could offer was a wage rase of 10%, which LSMVJ turned down.

On 8 February, the trade union’s leaders met Dumitru Costin, the president of the National Union Block (Blocul Naţional Sindical, BNS), the national trade union confederation to which LSMVJ is affiliated. Dumitru Costin said, at a press conference, that ‘a miner’s work is very hard, and poorly paid’, and offered the confederation’s support to the miners’ claims.

A few days later, on 12 February, the LSMVJ notified a ‘conflict of interests’ to the Hunedoara county Department for Labour, Social Solidarity and Family. In Romanian law, a ‘conflict of interests’ is a collective dispute over pay and conditions that arises in the context of negotiations over a collective agreement.

Following the official announcement of the conflict, two mediation sessions were held between the trade union and the management of CNH (on 18 and 22 February), both fruitless. A conciliation meeting was due for 29 February. If no progress is made, a strike has been threatened.

Commentary

So far in 2008, the government has offered no more than a 10% increase in response to any of the pay claims made by employees in the public sector, and never in one instalment. Even though on this occasion the demands come from the sensitive mining sector, it is thought unlikely that the government will concede and risk creating a precedent that might trigger a chain reaction.

Luminita Chivu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy

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